The Sony NEX camera system has pleased admirers with its high-quality and compact size. But just a few lenses have been released even after a year on the market. One way to make a small selection of lenses go further is to offer secondary lenses that can add flexibility to the primaries, and this is what Sony has done with the VCL-ECU1 Ultra Wide Angle Converter. It attaches to the front of the 16 mm pancake prime, turning it into a 12 mm ultra-wide angle lens without significantly affecting light transmission or sensitivity. I picked up a VCL-ECU1 at B&H Photo in New York last week, and am pleased to report that it greatly enhances my enjoyment of the 16 mm prime lens.
You’d probably also enjoy my complete Sony NEX-5 Camera Review
Although I love my Sony NEX-5 camera, I rarely use the 16 mm “pancake” prime lens I purchased for it. Although reasonably fast (Æ’/2.8) and pocketable, the 16 mm lens always seems too wide for on the go snapshots. And considering that the kit zoom starts at just 18 mm (and Æ’/3.5), I usually reach for that lens instead thanks to its versatility. After all, if you can only have one lens with you, it makes sense to go for one that zooms from 18 mm all the way out to 55 mm.
|16 mm||12 mm|
|The wide angle converter doesn’t distort much|
It’s not that there’s anything particularly bad about 16 mm prime. Although some have complained of reduced sharpness and light transmission around the edges, and it does exhibit a slight pincushion distortion, the 16 mm prime can produce really excellent images. A close, it is great for shallow depth of field shots especially when used in aperture priority and manual focus mode. And the 16 mm is always my lens of choice when using the NEX-5’s built-in panorama stitching capability.
But unless you’re shooting the great outdoors, 16 mm is pretty wide for street photography. Although the crop factor of the APS-C sensor used in all existing NEX cameras makes this a 24 mm equivalent lens, it’s still quite wide. I don’t care for heavy cropping and postprocessing, though that is certainly an option as a way to correctly frame distant images with a wide lens thanks to the NEX camera’s generous 14 to 24 megapixel sensors.
|16 mm||12 mm|
|A little extra width and height at 12 mm|
Introducing the VCL-ECU1 Ultra Wide Angle Converter
There was much excitement last year when Sony released the first information about their VCL-ECU1 Ultra Wide-Angle Converter and VCL-ECF1 Fisheye Conversion Lens. Fisheye is something of a gimmick, but it is important for any camera system to have such a lens. But it was the VCL-ECU1 that really piqued the interest of photographers, due to the limited availability of wide lenses for the NEX system.
The VCL-ECU1 snaps on the front of the SEL-16F28 16 mm pancake lens and applies a .75 x multiplier, turning it into a 12 mm ultra-wide-angle lens. Sony claims that the VCL-ECU1 does not affect the light transmission either, so the combination remains an Æ’/2.8 lens.
User reviews show that the VCL-ECU1 combination does impact image quality at the edges and introduces some distortion. But this seems to be mitigated in software somewhat on the newer NEX-5N and NEX-C3 cameras, and one hopes that the forthcoming NEX-7 will have the same capability.
Out and about With the VCL-ECU1
My own testing of the VCL-ECU1 and SEL-16F28 combination was enjoyable indeed. It is a pleasure to use a fairly fast wide-angle lens indoors, since one does not need to be very close to the subject. I found that interior shots with this combination were quite pleasing, with little distortion. Outdoors, the pair works as well and allows a wider field of view as long as the subject is uncluttered.
The VCL-ECU1 is extremely well made (and in Japan rather than Thailand as is the case with most Sony lenses) and attaches with a satisfying snap. There is little wiggle room once it is attached, however, that this should not affect daily operation. There is no threaded ring for filters, however, and the black plastic hood on the VCL-ECU1 is permanently attached.
|16 mm||12 mm|
|The converter expands both vertical and horizontal|
The VCL-ECU1 comes in a sturdy zippered case and includes both front and rear caps. The combination is not tiny, however. Attaching the VCL-ECU1 to the 16 mm lens makes a bulky to the size of the 18 to 55 mm zoom. It’s somewhat fussy to have to remove any filters from the 16 mm lens, and the zippered case is quite broad in diameter, taking up a surprisingly large amount of room in my bag. Since I purchased a 50 mm Minolta lens at the same time, I decided to leave my zoom lens at home and try just those two. It works, but wasn’t really ideal. Frankly, I still prefer the 18 to 55 mm zoom as a single walkaround lens.
|18 mm with converter||55 mm with converter|
|No, the converter doesn’t work with the 18-55 mm zoom lens!|
Interestingly, the VCL-ECU1 snaps right onto the front of the big 18 to 55 mm zoom lens as well. But this one is totally incapable of operation with the ultra-wide-angle converter. The results range from a weird pinhole effect at 18 mm to a headache inducing blurriness at 55 mm. So much for that idea!
The VCL-ECU1 Ultra Wide Angle Converter is an interesting but not indispensable tool for the NEX camera owner. On the plus side, it brings a little flexibility and functionality to the otherwise limited 16 mm pancake prime. On the other hand, the 12 mm combination that results is not all that useful in everyday shooting, and the VCL-ECU1 is pretty bulky in the bag. Still, with a street price of less than $100, the VCL-ECU1 is not a bad buy for the NEX owner who already has the two popular kit lenses.